God’s Help Versus Self Help

January 14, 2024

For many years the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves” was thought to be in the Bible, but it’s not. It’s actually attributed to Benjamin Franklin. The truth of the matter from the Bible is that God helps those who cannot help themselves. The precept and example in the Bible is of God doing the impossible just as man saw the situation impossible.

Psalm 102:17 (ESV) — 17 he regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer.

Consider how the King of Judah prayed when his country was surrounded by three enemies and things looked rather bleak. Instead of panicking he called for a national prayer meeting and, as the people gathered, consider how he prayed:

2 Chronicles 20:12 (ESV) — 12 O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

As refreshing as it might appear to hear a leader pray in such dependency upon God, it was quite humbling to admit the king does not have all the answers and is powerless, but, according to the previous verse in Psalm 102, that is exactly the attraction of God’s mercy and compassion. It’s not a matter of self-help as in trying to come up with a solution, rather it’s a matter of total dependency upon God and His help.

Too many times we approach life as if we have all the answers and we feel like we have done our spiritual duty in asking for God’s blessing. It’s not wrong to ask for God’s blessing, but when you make your plans and you have things figured out and simply ask for God’s blessings you are really relying upon “self-help” as in the many how to books written to get what you want in life. God’s help is found in coming with an empty hand and looking to Him for wisdom to handle the situation according to His will as well as the result.

James 1:5–8 (ESV) — 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Notice the person who needs wisdom, like the King of Judah, comes to God and admits that he doesn’t know what to do but his eyes are looking to God for guidance and help. The one who wavers between total dependency upon God and relying upon self in the way of ideas of how to pull this off as well as self-determination, will not receive anything from God because self-help is no help at all.

Can God be trusted? You learn that He can be trusted when you go through circumstances that look utterly impossible from a self-help standpoint. Consider the children of Israel who had left Egypt and just as they came to the edge of the Red Sea, they couldn’t help but notice Pharoah and his army pursuing them.

Exodus 14:8–10 (ESV) — 8 And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the people of Israel while the people of Israel were going out defiantly. 9 The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and his horsemen and his army, and overtook them encamped at the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon. 10 When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord.

This is no time for self-help.

Exodus 14:13–14 (ESV) — 13 And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

As Pharoah and his army came closer, God opened the sea so the children of Israel walked across on dry ground. As the Egyptian army pursued them, their chariots became stuck in the mud and after all the army was in the midst of the sea, God caused the sea to return and destroyed the entire army.

Exodus 14:30–31 (ESV) — 30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.

The great thing about reading narratives like this in the Bible is to realize that each one gives us another glimpse into God’s great might, wisdom, and compassion. If God can do that, can’t he handle the situation you are in? Of course. Our faith grows as we read the accounts of scripture and as God takes us through the events of life. As we depend upon Him, we also see how He works. In our dependency upon Him, we look to Him for wisdom to handle every situation in a way that honors Him, and we look to Him for the outcome. That produces gratitude because that means we are noticing every spec of help that God provides. Everything is at His disposal so He can use people, events, medicine, circumstances, etc. His resources are limitless. Isn’t that better than self-help? You may try your best to believe a mantra that you have contrived to convince yourself that you can do it, whatever it is. You may try your best to fake it until you make it, but down inside you know doubts prevail because you are relying upon something as flimsy as self-help.

On the other hand, remember that to believe God and His word is trusting in The Rock.

Deuteronomy 32:3–4 (ESV) — 3 For I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God! 4 “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.

Psalm 61:1–2 (ESV) — 1 Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; 2 from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I,

Psalm 62:1–2 (ESV) — 1 For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. 2 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

Self-help will let you down. God’s help is as reliable as God is reliable. God has promised that you can count on Him.

Hebrews 13:5–6 (ESV) — 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”


Bob Brubaker, Pastor